Emotion Coaching, the Power of Connection

When we attend and validate a child’s emotions we might even have one of those moments of connection. A secure and solid connection between parent and child builds a child’s social, cognitive and emotional functioning. Emotion Coaching is a technique that will support this process.

What is Emotion Coaching?

It helps young people to understand different emotions, and how they can help to manage themselves, especially at times of difficulty. At these times, through empathy parents teach/ guide their child about more effective responses. Emotion Coached children and young people:

  • Achieve more academically in school
  • Are more popular
  • Have fewer behavioural problems
  • Have fewer infectious illnesses
  • Are more emotionally stable
  • Are more resilient  (Gottman 1997)

Who Developed it?

It developed by Dr. John Gottman ( 1996-1997)  Dr. John Gottman and his colleagues studied families, at first examining children from age 3 longitudinally up to age 15.

“They found that concerned, warm, and involved parents often had attitudes toward their and their children’s emotions that got in the way … when the child was sad, afraid or angry,” he writes. “The secret to being an emotionally intelligent parent lay in how parents interacted with their children when emotions ran hot.” He and I share the same belief that discipline alone will not provide those magic moments of connection.

He and his colleagues developed five steps that parents use with their child to build empathy and model emotional intelligence. ( The Gottman Institute)

What are the five Steps of Emotion Coaching

1.Being aware of your child’s emotion

Unfortunately, you need to be aware of your emotions in order to attend to your child’s.  This is not easy if we experienced blocked care from your parents. You may need to work on your feelings and emotions first.

Try and stay calm and use gentle language.

You could say: I see that something is up.”  we can so often give up if there is no response but keep the opportunity open by acknowledging ” maybe it’s not the right time, but do come and talk to me later/or if it’s ok with you I might ask you again later”

2. Recognizing emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching

When our home feels like a battleground, it is so hard to hold onto the positive in the situation. Challenge the negative thoughts. Teach yourself, “self talk”, you might say:

“I am doing my best and so are they right now”

3. Listen Empathetically and validating the child’s feelings

This is the most important but yet the most difficult steps, it shows “I understand you and your experience.” Validating involves putting yourself in their shoes and conveying an understanding of their experience as they are experiencing it. This involves imagining what the situation must be like for them.

4. Help your child to verbally label the emotions

Words can really help your child understand something that might be scary. Remember everyone experiences feelings/ emotions. Try and help them with a wide range of feeling words. Words such as I wonder, could you be, do you think…you could say:

“I am wondering if you may be sad right now?”

“Do you think you might be disappointed?”

and instead of using the word  “but” use because”

“I can understand why you might feel sad because you know you’re going to miss out on the party”

“I can see how you might feel……because….”

Use the right tone of voice but in a calm manner. Remember all feelings are accepted but some behaviours are limited!

5. Setting limits while helping your child to problem solve

Dr. Gottman has five parts to this:

Ensuring appropriate limits

It’s always advantageous to discuss this prior to the incident, it will enable your child to make choices and will help you feel more in control and safe. What are your family rules? remember safety first. You could say:

“I understand you are angry but I can’t let you kick me, come and sit next to me to calm down.” ( you may need to  follow with the consequence) Remember what we discussed when you feel angry, we take big deep breaths or go to the big feelings tent”

Identifying goals

Many of the families I work with have a lot of goals, it’s important to try and focus on one or two. This means you can work intensely. Remember your goals may be different to your children, sit down with them and try and discuss this.

Thinking of possible solutions

Sometimes this is not possible at the moment but may be possible later when the situation has calmed.

You could say: “How can I help you now, what can you do to beat the worry monster”

Helping your child to choose a solution as in here:

This can take time but having lots of conversations during family meetings, in addition sitting down with your children and working through situations such as ” what would you do if”.

Why bother to Emotion Coach?

I know every parent I work with wants a loving connection with their child. The research shows that Emotion Coaching promotes emotional intelligence and creates positive, long lasting effects for children. It supports children through life’s ups and downs in a way that builds confidence and helps them grow socially, emotionally, and intellectually and most of all builds a secure connection between you and your child, it’s never too late!


The Gottman Institute

Emotion Coaching: A universal strategy for supporting and promoting sustainable emotional and behavioural well-beingLicette Gus, Janet Rose & Louise Gilbert Educational & Child Psychology Vol. 32 No. 1

Good luck everyone. Emotion Coaching is something that I discuss in much more detail in my Positive Discipline Workshop, ( Its full but will be doing it next year again, it’s been very popular thank you) and during my Stop the Worry Cycle too, as I am passionate about children being able to understand and regulate their emotions! Wishing you “Magic Moments ” with your child With Love Catherine

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